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  • Sahil Singh

Unified Hearing on IT Rules, 2021: Supreme Court Mandates Delhi HC

Sahil Singh  2nd year,

BBA-LLB (Hons.) Alliance University, Bengaluru 

Introduction:

On March 22, 2024, the Supreme Court of India transferred to the High court of Delhi all the cases filed across the country against the validity of Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 and all the petitions filed by the Union of India for transfer of all the cases against the validity of IT Rules 2021 to this court.

The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines Digital Media and Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, often known as the IT Rules, were issued by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeiTY) of the Government of India and became effective from February 25, 2021. It replaced the previous regulations known as IT Rules of 2011 with the significant addition of including the online news content and the Over-The-Top (OTT) platforms. Furthermore, the new regulations also increased the scope of the intermediary monitoring mechanism that limited the freedom of the above-mentioned platforms in controlling and presenting their own content. These regulations exist because of specific provision provided in sections 87(1), 87(2)(z) and 87(2)(zg) of the parent Act, IT Act, 2000.

Constitutionality of IT rules 2021: 

The Key provision in the issue of constitutionality is Rule 9 of the Information Technology Rules, 2021. Rule 9(1) mandates that OTT platforms and digital news media must adhere to an Ethics Code, which includes following journalistic conduct norms, following the Cable Television Network (Regulation) Act, 1995 Programme Code, and not publishing unlawful content. If these standards are breached, a complaint can be lodged using Rule 9(3), which offers a three-level complaint system. Publishers must address complaints themselves.

The IT Rules have generated a lot of controversy. Since the government announced the IT Rules, 2021 at least seventeen cases have been filed in distinct High Courts challenging the validity of the said rules. Legal assistance has been provided in two of these petitions by the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF)[i]. Mr. T.M. Krishna filed a petition with the Madras High Court that resulted in a stay on the enforcement of Rules 9(1) and 9(3) of the IT Rules

Union of India files transfer petitions:

For the Supreme Court of India to address all of the petitions that are currently in High

Courts, the Union of India sought transfers of the petitions to the court. Other concerns were

also framed as objections to the IT Rules, 2021, include opposing the rules framed under the Cable Television News Act and demanding the formation of rules for social media and news media platforms among other things. [ii] 

The Supreme Court of India entertained these petitions on May 9, 2022. A bench comprising of Justice A. M. Khanwilkar and Abhay S. Oka directed that all labelled matters should be correctly categorized and that the matters challenging the IT Rules, 2021 will be heard together but separately from another case. Hence, the Bench was equally glad to give notice on each and every petition. Furthermore, it also made an order restraining the hearing of all matters pending before the High Courts including any future petitions.

However, the protections granted by orders, against aspects of the IT Rules 2021 continued to be enforced and were not lifted. Subsequently due, to the separation of issues the case was listed for May 19, 2022. However, it was not heard on that date.

Supreme Court directs all petitions to Delhi High Court:

On 22/03/2024 almost two years after the grant of stay order on 09-05-2022, the matter was surprisingly listed by a bench headed by justice Hrishikesh Roy. Even before filing petitions of transfer, Union of India had sought the Delhi High Court to consider the cases following it. For this reason, the Supreme Court has directed that all the petition has been transferred to the Delhi High Court and as per this all the documents that are before the High courts across the country for disposal on the present date they have to be produced before the Delhi High Court within four weeks.[iii] The Bench stated that in order to avoid contradictory judgements, they are transferring all the petitions to Delhi High Court, given "large number of cases pending consideration”.

On August 14, the Delhi High Court will consider a number of petitions against the 2021 Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules[iv]. "Since similar petitions are listed on August 14, list on the same date," Acting Chief Justice Manmohan and Justice Manmeet PS Arora of the Delhi High Court stated in a bench.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, the recent ruling of the Supreme Court to transfer all the cases related to the Information Technology Rules, 2021 to the Delhi High Court is a step in the right direction, as these cases would be taken under the purview of a single High Court rather than being scattered across several High Courts. This will help avoid some cases of having conflicting decisions and also provide a standard way of handling issues raised over the constitutional lawful nature of the IT Rules. In this manner, the cases regarding regulations of digital media can be

systematically managed in a single court to enable the judicial system to address the intricate issues associated with freedom of speech and ethical norms concerning digital media regulation.

[iv] Deccan Herald, https://www.deccanherald.com/india/dl-hc-it-rules-3010033, (Last visited on 18 June 2024)

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